When I heard that Simon Walters, the political editor of the Mail on Sunday, was writing a novel, my immediate reaction was to think that, seeing as he is so used to writing stories, his task shouldn't be too difficult. But then I recalled some of the stories that have hit the news since new Labour came to power, and I realised that it would be almost impossible to top them. If Walters had written a few years ago that, say, a gay minister would be sacked for borrowing hundreds of thousands of pounds from another minister to buy a posh house, or that the Home Secretary's son would be caught buying drugs, or that the Prime Minister's son would be arrested for being drunk, who would have believed him? So even as he wrote this amusing novel, it must have occurred to Walters that some of his storylines were in danger of being trumped by actual events. Still, given that this novel is about a "young energetic Prime Minister who has known nothing but success . . . and there is one thing that he craves above all else - to be the first leader of his party to achieve a second term of office", that's hardly surprising.
Perhaps Walters got the idea of writing a novel from his friend Amanda Platell, William Hague's chief spinstress, because it certainly isn't designed to show new Labour in a good light. The novel begins with the defeat of a Labour leader, a Neil Kinnock-like figure - someone Walters knows all about. As a political reporter on the Sun, Walters followed Kinnock around the world, looking to stitch him up whenever possible. He was very successful at this job and, as a result, his colleagues gave him the nickname "Shifty".
As you might expect from an ex-Sun hack, sex features prominently in Second Term - and from the first page. (Platell must have told him that sex sells books.) The sex mainly involves the central character, a spin-doctor called Charlie. I was relieved to find out that this Charlie is, in fact, a woman, so any resemblance to me could be safely discounted. At first, I did notice some similarities, but then I saw that this Charlie does everything that a spin-doctor is supposed to do. For example, she has the first editions of the papers delivered at 11.30pm: "If there was anything to worry about, she could deal with it there and then to stop it carrying through to the later editions in London, which had more impact." I preferred to find out what was in the papers before they were printed.
Second Term is, then, an enjoyable political romp; if I had written anything half as good, I would be proud of it. This is Walters's first effort as a novelist, and I'm looking forward to his second. Next time, he might tell us even taller stories, such as the one about the hack who belted an ex-MP in a full press-gallery dining room, only to find that there were no witnesses present. Some hacks, it seems, are well respected by their colleagues after all.